With all the keto diet craze going on and so many people raving about the success they're having with weight loss, increased energy levels, and reduced sugar cravings, I thought about giving it a try.
For those of you unfamiliar with keto, it involves eating an extremely low-carb diet (35 grams of net carbs) that's high in fat (80 percent of your daily calories) and moderate in protein. This makes the body produce ketones in the liver to use as energy instead of glucose from carbohydrates.
I'm all about eating a plant-based diet, so is it safe for a vegan to also go on a keto diet? Many people doing keto eat tons of meat like bacon, eggs, and dairy products like butter and don't eat beans, whole grains, pasta, bread, potatoes, or most fruits, including apples, bananas, mangoes, and grapes. It seems like the keto diet is just about the opposite of a plant-based diet. So what's left for a vegan to eat on keto? Check out this short list:
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, cherries)
- Low-carb, nonstarchy veggies (lettuce, kale, spinach, celery, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, cucumber, mushrooms, asparagus, tomato, onion, peppers, and sea vegetables)
- Nuts (macadamia, pecans, walnuts, peanuts, almonds, Brazil, pine)
- Seeds (flaxseed, chia, pumpkin)
- Nutritional yeast
- Very small portions of tempeh
- Low-carb unsweetened plant-based protein powders (like hemp or pea protein)
Looks like for a vegan, the keto diet pretty much sucks. But is it safe? We asked three registered dietitians and one clinical nutritionist to weigh in. Salads, berries, avocado, nuts, and seeds just aren't a wide range of foods at all, which is why registered dietitian Lisa Bunn, RD, CSCS, says, "Those following a vegan diet shouldn't push themselves toward a ketogenic state or follow keto guidelines. Not only are there not enough sources of protein to meet daily needs, but there aren't appropriate foods to create complete proteins, which are needed for recovery and growth." For example, beans and rice create a complete protein, and you can't eat either of those on a keto diet.
Stephanie Ferrari, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian with Fresh Communications, agrees and says that "adding another complicated layer of restriction, as with the keto diet, to an already restricted diet could pose some serious challenges." The keto diet requires you add more fat to your diet, which isn't an issue for vegans since there are plenty of plant-based sources like nuts, seeds, nut butters, avocado, coconut oil, olives, and olive oil. "The problem is that protein sources for vegans are high in carbohydrates: beans, rice, tempeh, etc., so getting adequate protein on a vegan keto diet would be incredibly difficult. For that reason, I do not recommend a keto diet for people following a vegan diet."
We asked a third expert, clinical nutritionist Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNC. He says that while it is possible to follow a vegan ketogenic diet, it's not ideal in his opinion. "This type of diet will likely be difficult to follow for more than a very short time period, considering your meals may quickly get pretty repetitive. If you are able to follow a vegan keto diet for more than a couple weeks, you'll likely be at risk for developing nutrient deficiencies."
Finally, certified dietitian Leslie Langevin, MS, RD, CD, of Whole Health Nutrition agrees, saying, "You'd have to eat a TON of nuts and seeds!" She's actually "not a long-term keto fan," because she doesn't think people should eliminate healthy foods. Her recommendation to clients is to eat clean, whole foods; lean proteins, including beans and tofu for vegetarians and vegans; and lots of veggies, fruits, and complex carbs like quinoa, oats, brown rice, and sweet potatoes.
Dr. Axe also says, "The ketogenic diet is a medical diet breakthrough to overcome any plateaus, whether it be balance blood sugar, stop neurological symptoms, or just lose the last 10 pounds of stubborn belly fat." It's not some new diet trend everyone should follow, and those that do utilize it should only be on it a maximum of one year. So don't feel like you're missing out on the keto diet if you're vegan and trying to lose weight. Just focus on eating appropriate portions of whole foods and your body will respond!